The Social Security test of disability is very strict and to be eligible for DI benefits, the Social Security law says that the applicant must be “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months.” Furthermore, the impairment or combination of impairments must be of such severity that the applicant is not only unable to do his or her previous work but cannot, considering his or her age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy (Social Security Act, section 223(d)).

A person is considered to be involved in substantial gainful activity if he or she earns more than a certain amount. If a non-blind individual earns more than $1,010 a month in 2012, he or she would not be eligible for disabled worker benefits. The amount is adjusted each year to keep up with average wages. (In some cases earnings can be reduced by the costs associated with work, such as paying for a wheelchair or services of an attendant. If deductible work expenses bring net earnings below $1,010 a month, the individual can be eligible for benefits.) The substantial gainful activity level for blind individuals in 2012 is $1,690 a month.

State agencies, operating under federal guidelines, make the medical and vocational determinations for the Social Security Administration about whether applicants meet the test of disability in the law. Medical records, work history, and the applicant’s age and education are considered in making the determination.

There is a five-month waiting period after the onset of disability before payments begin. If someone suffered a disabling injury in January and met Social Security’s disability definition, he or she would become eligible for the first disability payment for July.

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